News

School district raises questions about Palo Alto's intention to renew Cubberley lease

Board members suggest city is using soon-to-expire lease as 'leverage'

The city of Palo Alto and school district's joint effort to redevelop Cubberley Community Center has hit a bump in the road with district officials raising questions about whether the city intends to renew its $5 million lease of the Middlefield Road facility in Palo Alto.

Questions surrounding the lease are the latest indication of the incongruity between the city and school district's desires for redeveloping Cubberley, though the two agencies are engaged in a joint master planning process for the site.

Superintendent Don Austin told board members at a Friday retreat that he has been unable to negotiate an extension of the lease, which expires at the end of the year, with city staff. He had at one point discussed with city staff a two-year extension, which was later reduced to one year, then six months and "most recently, it was taken off the table staff to staff," he said.

Board members suggested that the city is using the soon-to-expire lease as "leverage" in talks with the district. They asked staff about the reassessing value of the property and the possibility of looking for new tenants, if necessary.

"To want to hold these public uses and the benefits to Palo Alto citizens hostage as leverage in discussions between the city and school district just makes no sense," said board member Ken Dauber. "I hope they reconsider that course."

City Manager Ed Shikada told the Weekly that he thought there had been miscommunication with the district on the lease extension and that "the city has been clear that we want to continue supporting community use of the Cubberley property.

"At the same time, the city has spent millions of dollars repairing facilities that should be replaced as they have been used far beyond their intended life, so we want to ensure that further investments in the property will have lasting value," he said.

The district owns 27 acres in the 35-acre campus and leases them to the city, which owns the other 8 acres. In March 2016, former Superintendent Max McGee and former City Manager James Keene signed a new lease that calls for the completion of a master plan for Cubberley by Dec. 31, 2019. A draft master plan, created after a monthslong "co-design" process that started last fall, includes proposals for more green space, a new gym and performing arts center, a future school and four different options for housing at Cubberley.

The City Council discussed the lease in closed session on Aug. 5 but took no reportable action, according to meeting minutes. Mayor Eric Filseth did not respond to questions for this article by the Weekly's deadline.

Shikada said the City Council has directed him to "engage with the district on (an) extension of the lease, with terms that continue progress on the master planning effort that PAUSD and the City have jointly undertaken. We have made major progress through our community process, and would like to reflect this in the lease extension."

At a meeting of the City/School Liaison Committee on Thursday, council members Lydia Kou and Alison Cormack declined to discuss the lease because it was not agendized.

Friday's retreat marked the school board's first formal discussion of the draft master plan. A majority of the board reiterated that they are in no rush to build any school facilities on the district-owned land but do want to preserve land for a potential secondary school in the future.

"I think we can be great neighbors. We can swap land, we can move boundaries ... but what I don't think we can be partners in is financing and paying for new facilities that we don't know if and when we're ever going to need," said Vice President Todd Collins.

Dauber also said that the district should be willing to reconfigure the city's 8 acres or expand it by doing a land swap for other land in Palo Alto but that " the idea that somehow we're going to be fully joint development partners with facilities that are going to be built that don't have an educational purpose — I just don't think that's going to happen."

"I think it's really important that it be clear to the city that that's not going to happen," he said.

Board member Shounak Dharap, however, advocated for a more proactive stance on Cubberley. Even if the district doesn't want to build a school now, that shouldn't preclude exploring its other interests at Cubberley, including moving the district office there and building teacher housing, he said.

"I don't think we can split up the city's portion and our portion and say ... 'we're going to take our time,'" Dharap said. "My thought is we really should move forward with the city on this."

A majority of board members voiced support for building teacher housing at an adjacent, district-owned site at 525 San Antonio Road. The draft master plan proposed in different alternatives building 32 to 64 units for district staff and teachers at 525 San Antonio Road. Several board members said they'd like to see options for even denser housing there, which would require rezoning.

Collins said he's "a big fan of teacher housing if we have the need" but questioned whether that need has been demonstrated, asking for further study of the issue.

The board and city council were tentatively scheduled to hold a joint meeting on Cubberley in October. Several board members said they're uninterested in participating at the moment in what they believed would be an unproductive meeting.

At Thursday's City/School Liaison Committee meeting, Austin said staff from both agencies are having difficulty setting the agenda for a meeting for which there is no "clearly defined purpose." He suggested forming an ad hoc committee of board and council members to "frame up what that session will look like" and potentially, discuss the lease agreement.

"What we appear to be stuck on at the moment is the question of how to reconcile the various goals the district and city have for the property," Shikada told the Weekly. "The next step really needs to be a focused joint effort to articulate these goals and agree on a path forward. I'm pretty sure our goals are not mutually exclusive, but this will require direct communication."

In other business at Friday's retreat, the school board discussed in detail Austin's three-year plan, the "PAUSD Promise." They reviewed and gave feedback on 12 high-level goals for this school year, from improving instruction and support for students with dyslexia and adopting curriculum aligned with the state's Next Generation Science Standards to tightening school safety procedures.

The goals represent an estimated $1.2 million in funding, some of which has already been allocated, will be reallocated or is an additional ask, Austin said. The district's new chief business official will bring back a more specific funding request for this year's budget, he said.

Austin said that this year, performance evaluations for senior leadership — including his own, if the board decides — will include progress made on the plan.

"We expect to be held accountable to these goals," he said.

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Comments

8 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 19, 2019 at 10:50 am

rsmithjr is a registered user.

This is partly a joke but only partly.

Perhaps the PAUSD could sell Cubberley campus to Castilleja. This would provide Casti with a large enough campus for more growth than I am guessing they will ever need. It would take the pressure off of the neighborhood of the current Casti campus. And would resolve the question of what happens to Cubberley. Perhaps the city could buy the current Casti campus.

Won't happen. I am sure that PAUSD wants Cubberley for possible educational use by the district.


17 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 19, 2019 at 11:11 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

This campus served as a high school in the past and for some reason was closed down as an educational institution, which then overloaded Gunn and PAHS. Logistically Cubberley is better placed in the community than Gunn - where a large percentage of the students have to travel a distance to get there. Any attempt to eliminate Cub as a potential school will place further stress on the remaining two high schools as the city starts building more housing and producing more students. The idea that you would gut the property is wrong headed. And we just discussed teacher housing on Grant Street by the courthouse.

Any attempt of the city to force a situation here is wrong headed. Many organizations use Cub as a place to provide city services in the interim of waiting for reinstatement to a high school. The mayor needs to be the point person here.


28 people like this
Posted by Filseth's folly
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 19, 2019 at 11:54 am

First the Council screws up rail crossing funding and now seem to be on their way to screwing up Cubberley redevelopment. Dauber and Collins are right to insist that the city be straight about what it's doing. Meeting in closed session to try to put the squeeze on the district is silly.

Filseth and Shikada, you should put Cubberley on the public Council agenda and level with the community about what's going on.


5 people like this
Posted by MoveItForward
a resident of Mayfield
on Aug 19, 2019 at 11:59 am

Sounds like the new superintendent is taking a political approach rather than working with the City manager to move negotiations forward. Very odd to start discussing this publically as a problem with a lease extension not needed until Dec. From the article is sounds like the city council has given the city management direction to negotiate but the school superintendent has not been given direction from the school board. COme on school board! Let's get going so all of these wonderful community services for kids and adults continue uninterrupted while planning the future of Cubbberley progresses. This is NOT a time for political football


25 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 19, 2019 at 12:22 pm

@MoveItForward - hmm, someone shilling for the city, that's interesting. The city, in the form of Dubois and Cormack, is trying to ram a development plan down the throat of the school district that the district doesn't need. As Dauber said, they are holding Cubberley hostage to try to get their way - but no one seems to know what it is they want (even them I expect).

This seems easy - they should just extend or renew the current lease, and let the city go ahead with whatever they want to do in redeveloping their part of Cubberley (if they can figure out how to pay for it). The city trying to play "hard-ball" with the lease is just silly - what, are they going to cancel Cubberley softball and soccer, plus all the theater and gym programs, for next year?


23 people like this
Posted by Big omission
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 19, 2019 at 12:30 pm

Left out of this article is a critical point made a couple of times at the school board meeting - the school district is saying they do not need the city's 8 acres for a school - the 25 acres they still own is enough. That changes everything - it means the city and the district can de-couple their development plans and do their own thing on their own time frame.

This was never the case before - the district always said they needed all 35 acres, which kept the city from building anything. With that change, it seems like the city can just going ahead and do what it wants.


19 people like this
Posted by Confused
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 19, 2019 at 12:48 pm

"Shikada said the City Council has directed him to "engage with the district on (an) extension of the lease, with terms that continue progress on the master planning effort that PAUSD and the City have jointly undertaken. We have made major progress through our community process, and would like to reflect this in the lease extension.""

50 pts for anybody who can de-code what that means! "Terms that continue progress on the master planning effort" - huh? Why doesn't the city just explain to everyone what they are trying to do?


1 person likes this
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 19, 2019 at 1:10 pm

Green Gables is a registered user.

"This campus served as a high school in the past and for some reason was closed down as an educational institution, which then overloaded Gunn and PAHS."

It was closed because there were fewer students in Palo Alto at the time, and Paly would have reverted back to Stanford if it was closed.

PAUSD SOLD schools because "they needed the money." If they had tried to budget their "executives" maybe they could have just rented most of the sites. Just not thinking which continues.


13 people like this
Posted by community member
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 19, 2019 at 3:20 pm

community member is a registered user.

What about all the programs that are going on at Cubberley? There are at least a couple dozen groups renting/leasing space there now. What is to become of them?


Like this comment
Posted by Who’s the owner
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2019 at 7:27 pm

The schools district owns most of the site? Why don’t they just take over managing all the micro-leases and building maintenance? They own it or at least most of it, no? The facilities look like crap. Probably full of asbestos too. I’m sure the City (as the tenant) doesn’t want to invest much into the buildings with uncertainty about how long they can be there. If you were renting a house in Palo Alto, would you spend your money to fix it for the landowner?

Maybe the school district can just hire a property management company to lease out and maintain the site?


Like this comment
Posted by City owns the buildings
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 19, 2019 at 8:02 pm

@Who’s the owner, most of the buildings are owned by the city, except for the gym and theater I think. The school district mostly owns parking lots and fields.


18 people like this
Posted by Smart PAUSD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2019 at 9:38 am

I'm disgusted with Cormack hijacking a formerly good City process with her big new "discovery" that we need more senior housing. She has really messed this up for the two parties working together, but is so arrogant she doesn't see it. She fueled the City to take off like a jet plane with redevelopment even though there were reports that PAUSD was not ready to do so.

So sensibly it sounds like PAUSD realizes, duh, that Cubberly is first and foremost for school and district uses and is going to act responsibly in protecting it for such. Perhaps building teacher housing adjacent but off-site.

However, the City may ignore that Cubberly is for badly needed and wanted community services and organizations, and instead build housing there. Goodbye services for those old folks that may live there, or for the rest of us as the city council robs squanders our resources.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 20, 2019 at 4:13 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

When the discussions on CUB were started we did not have the Fry's site upcoming. And we did not have a decision on teacher housing on Grant Street. So time moves on and we are required to build more housing - the state told us that. Any decision to build housing at CUB then becomes not necessary - you cannot hold out extenuating circumstances to force decisions at any of those locations. And you do not have the money to do so.

You are now invested in the Grant Street teacher housing and the Ventura upgrades - what ever they turn out to be. So do not say that housing at CUB is a must do effort. And any PAUSD official who thinks that they will upend the educational system properties of the city then think again. That property if for the future students in the city. It is not a get quick rich scheme for short term idiocy.


9 people like this
Posted by Wasted Leadership
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 20, 2019 at 7:59 pm

How much of our money did City Hall waste on community input meetings, consultants, and planning before deciding to talk to their actual PARTNER, the School District?

I'm not commenting on who's plans do or don't merit, but this is just another catastrophic failure of leadership and waste from ... from ... from whom? Was it Keene, Shikada, Community Services?

Whoever ran this thing, some common sense and accountability would be appreciated.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2019 at 10:30 pm

Posted by Green Gables, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

>> "This campus served as a high school in the past and for some reason was closed down as an educational institution, which then overloaded Gunn and PAHS."

>> It was closed because there were fewer students in Palo Alto at the time, and Paly would have reverted back to Stanford if it was closed.

>> PAUSD SOLD schools because "they needed the money." If they had tried to budget their "executives" maybe they could have just rented most of the sites. Just not thinking which continues.

Although the PAUSD actions seemed reactive and shortsighted at the time, clearly they turned out to be "strategic". The strategy being for schools at all levels K-12, "bigger is better". And, with bigger schools come bigger administrator salaries. Web Link . Some folks think this is a good thing; some folks think it isn't a good thing. But, there it is.


1 person likes this
Posted by "far beyond their intended life"?
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 21, 2019 at 2:20 pm

"far beyond their intended life"? is a registered user.

City Manager Ed Shikada is quoted as saying "the city has spent millions of dollars repairing facilities that should be replaced as they have been used far beyond their intended life"

What is the intended life of the public buildings we erect? The high school was opened in 1956. It was built to last just 50-60 years? The new facility will also be expected to be torn down in 50-60 years? Should we price it accordingly?


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2019 at 2:43 pm

Posted by "far beyond their intended life"?, a resident of Palo Verde

>> What is the intended life of the public buildings we erect? The high school was opened in 1956. It was built to last just 50-60 years? The new facility will also be expected to be torn down in 50-60 years? Should we price it accordingly?

Back in the 50's through the 70's, people often assumed an expected life of a building was 30-40 years. That is not to say that all buildings were throwaways, but, it certainly was assumed that any building with a long life would need reinvestment/repair/remodeling/etc. At the time, people were generally not interested in building Notre Dame cathedral buildings. Just get it built and move on. It was a postwar thing. e.g. Gunn and Cubberley have always looked mostly throwaway to me, while some of Paly looks intended to be more permanent. Which can be expensive in itself, because seismic upgrades cost a bundle-- often more than new construction would have.

Anyway, despite the fact that I think Cubberley HS should have remained open, the buildings themselves are very dated.


1 person likes this
Posted by CDE Audit
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 21, 2019 at 5:50 pm

I am unpleasantly surprised to read in the Superintendent's weekly report California Department of Education (CDE) audit found the District in non-compliance for disproportionality of Hispanic and African American students. It is a finding indicating PAUSD is not educating these students fairly, and requiring the District make corrections under close CDE supervision.
Web Link

Again? CDE cited the District for this before. Have we gone backwards?

This has not been discussed in the press. Was it discussed at the recent Board retreat? Will families be notified? Will CDE's letter of findings be made public?


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 21, 2019 at 6:16 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

If the intended life of a building is about 30 - 50 years, then that answers the question on the Fry's site. No that is not a different topic. There is some type of leveraging going on here and it revolves around the housing on campus. Fry's and Grant St. Teacher Housing was not a topic when the CUB discussions took place. So now we have the Teacher housing topic covered on Grant St. Consider that as off the table for the CUB site. So any "wise' conclusions concerning CUB regarding the age of the buildings applies to all buildings in the city, including Fry's.
That means that Fry's cannot remain as is whoever owns it. Because if it is not updated the city can take it by eminent domain. It must have a zero tax base at this point. It is not up to spec and is an earthquake hazard. The same arguments can be made for CUB. CUB does need updating by the PAUSD and some projection as to when it can resume it's intended purpose as a high school. That has to be baked into the budget somewhere.


Like this comment
Posted by education specialist
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 22, 2019 at 12:38 pm

education specialist is a registered user.

rsmithjr wrote:
"This is partly a joke but only partly.

Perhaps the PAUSD could sell Cubberley campus to Castilleja. This would provide Casti with a large enough campus for more growth than I am guessing they will ever need. It would take the pressure off of the neighborhood of the current Casti campus. And would resolve the question of what happens to Cubberley. Perhaps the city could buy the current Casti campus.

Won't happen. I am sure that PAUSD wants Cubberley for possible educational use by the district."

It is my opinion as an education professional that Castilleja is among the list of schools in the area that are superior to PAUSD. Of course PAUSD does not want the public to realize the extent to which many private schools are better. Yes, public education is "cheaper." But many of these private schools are doing a much better job of educating our youth. I am in support of the idea of a private school, or multiple private schools, occupying part of the Cubberley site.


6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Education specialist, pausd couldn't care less who chooses to send their kids to private school (including 3 of the 5 current board members, btw). They get the same tax dollars either way. In fact, if the parents are a pain, the district probably prefers they go private. Pausd has a number of areas where it could improve, but catering better to prospective private school parents is way, way down the list.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 24, 2019 at 8:58 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I was disappointed in reading the Weekly that came out this Friday concerning this topic. Some attempt here to stove-pipe the discussion of teacher housing. We are now going to have teacher housing on Grant St. That is a given - no debate on that topic.
That changes the conversation of teacher housing on the CUB site. The CUB site is for educational purposes, period. Also there is not a projection concerning that SU is going to increase housing in PA and the result will be more students in the system. If PA is going to add more housing then by definition there will be more students in the system. There is suppose to be some comprehensive planning at the city level that takes into consideration all of the ongoing projects and how they impact other on going projects. Not any one project is a stand-alone event when it concerns housing and population growth - it all impacts the total city planning. And we do not need consultants to tell us what we paid them to tell us. We have a city office that is suppose to do that. Can we all hear what the city planning office has come up with?
Further note - when funds are allocated to a project then that project has to have a statement of work that defines the issue and resolution to that issue(s). Not consultants running the show.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 26, 2019 at 7:16 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

During the discussion concerning the CUB upgrades the city Department of Recreation had specific comments concerning the use of fields which they manage. That is their job. I got the distinct impression that their recommendations were ignored. This is a school site which requires these fields to be available to provide all of the requirements for a standard high school. This site will be reactivated because we are adding more people and housing in the city. We are not going to overload the two high schools we have - our educational system is one of our values.

As a side note if you drive down Middlefield south to Mountain View to Shoreline Dr. you will note a high school with all required fields. Mountain View is adding housing not on that site but in a vast empty lot that is a couple of blocks down the road. So the city of Mountain View is providing housing for teachers but not directly on the school property.
Comparisons with other school districts needs to be clear. Yes - other communities are creating teacher housing but not directly on the campus in a way that would interfere with the normal requirements for the high school activities.


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